A years-long casino resort development that has risen to tower over the shores of the Mystic River finally opens its doors this weekend. Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resorts hotel and casino that, despite its name, is not actually situated on Boston Harbor, opens on Sunday, June 23, accepting customers to its sprawling gambling spaces (with 4 a.m. last call for active gamblers on the casino floor), and unveiling 15 restaurants and bars, including one that’s a joint venture from two prominent North End restaurant families.
The journey to Encore’s opening has not been without its hiccups. Plans began shortly after then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a law to allow casino developments in the state in 2011. Eight years later, at $2.6 billion, the Encore project cost nearly double its intended budget, and in the midst of development, former CEO Steve Wynn faced sexual misconduct allegations, for which he was forced to resign his position and Wynn Resorts was ultimately fined $35 million (a relatively small amount) by Massachusetts gaming regulators for its handling of the misconduct claims against its named chairman. The buildout has also put pressure on the local job market, with close to 5,000 estimated hires, drawing staff away from local restaurants and exacerbating a hospitality industry labor shortage that has been going on for years.
Steering through the tumult, Encore Boston Harbor is on the brink of opening and chock full of gambling machines, table games, and card games, as well as elaborate decor — including a 2,000-pound Popeye sculpture by Jeff Koons, which Wynn had purchased for $28 million at an auction in 2014 — and so much food. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from each of the Encore’s restaurants and bars, some of which come from notable local restaurateurs. Bear in mind many places within the casino have dress codes and age restrictions; consult the Encore website for details.
- Fratteli is a collaboration between North End restaurateurs Frank DePasquale and Nick Varano. Meaning “brothers” in Italian, the restaurant spans 5,200 square feet and specializes in coastal Italian dishes. Officially opening on Monday, June 24, Fratteli will serve items like linguini and clams, stuffed zucchini flowers, grilled octopus, risotto, gnocchi, and brick oven-roasted vegetables, meat, and pizza.
- Bru is the casino’s 24-hour coffee shop that serves salads, sandwiches, and pastries alongside espresso beverages, tea, and smoothies. There are also cakes and ice cream.
- Dunkin’ is another 24-hour operation within the casino, serving its usual coffee and doughnut lineup and breakfast sandwiches. It’s located on the gaming floor.
- The Buffet is meant to evoke Alice in Wonderland vibes with its decor, with food stations serving assorted dishes and elaborate desserts. There will be weekend brunch, weekday lunch, and daily dinner service.
- Center Bar sits in the middle of Encore’s gaming floor, serving wine, spirits, and beer. There are 28 seats, and the bar operates from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
- Mystique, despite its X-Men-sounding name, is actually a massive restaurant specializing in Asian cuisine. The 16,400-square-foot restaurant will be serving items like smoked black garlic short rib, sushi, sashimi, and omakase specials from executive chef Anthony Micari. There will be items cooked on a robata grill, and the fish will be flown in from Japan daily. Big Night Entertainment Group is behind it; the group operates a growing number of big, flashy venues in and beyond Boston, including several at the Connecticut casino Foxwoods.
- Encore also has a nightclub called Memoire, which is also run by Big Night Entertainment Group. It can accommodate up to 650 people in 8,000 square feet of space, and it offers typical nightclub perks like VIP tables with bottle service. It will play host to a lineup of DJs and entertainers, including Steve Aoki during opening week.
- Garden Lounge is an upscale bar at Encore, serving cocktails, beer, and wine overlooking the resort’s garden lobby. It is not to be confused with Garden Cafe, which serves brunch, lunch, breakfast, and dinner, again, overlooking the garden lobby.
- The Oyster Bar showcases New England flavors in the form of raw bar items and other local seafood options, with former Neptune Oyster chef John Ross at the helm. Ross is also leading Waterfront, an 80-seat casual restaurant within Encore serving pub fare and lobster rolls, as well as local craft beer. (Note: There are no water views inside Waterfront.)
- Rare Steakhouse fits the fine dining bill at Encore and specializes in high-end meats, with specialty cuts and preparations from chef Taylor Kearney, as well as an expansive menu of bourbon and scotch. This is the place to go to drop $220 on four ounces of A5 Kobe steak. Unlike Waterfront, Rare Steakhouse does have waterfront views, with an outdoor patio. The restaurant calls for “resort elegant” attire, so please, leave the sports jerseys at home (or check out the next bar.)
- Encore’s sports bar, On Deck Burger Bar, overlooks the gaming floor and serves burgers, along with other classic sports bar items.
- Sinatra — which also has a location at the Las Vegas Wynn resort — serves a lineup of classic Italian dishes with a little extra flare courtesy of chef Anthony Ricciardi. Look out for items like osso buco, veal parmigiana, and clams.
- Another import from the Wynn casino in Las Vegas, Red 8 brings in an assortment of dim sum dishes and more elements of Chinese cuisine, with dishes like ginger-scallion steamed fish, pork dumplings, and Peking-style duck.
Encore Boston Harbor opens June 23 in Everett. Take careful note of the transportation options ahead of time; onsite parking — if you can even brave the traffic — will run you $22 for six hours or $42 for 24 hours. Looking to book a hotel room at Encore for opening night? There are still rooms available — for $852 and up.